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Volume 24, Number 5
September/October 2008

Creating a Culture of Reciprocal Accountability

How five new principals won their faculties' support for schoolwide reforms


Principals new to their schools must win the trust and respect of their faculty and students. Administrators embarking on a whole-school, standards-based change agenda often find this to be the most difficult task they face as they ask teachers and students involved in the reform to relinquish old habits and learn new skills. Until a school community is able to embrace change efforts as its own, there is always the potential that a leader will meet with resistance when altering the status quo.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Boston Public Schools was a chronically dysfunctional school system. Teachers were ill equipped to instruct to high standards a population composed predominantly of high-poverty immigrant and minority students. Assisted by the award-winning reform efforts of superintendent Thomas Payzant, the five administrators whose stories are showcased below were on the vanguard of urban school leadership in that critical time, believing schools could make a difference in student achievement. And they worked hard to prove it.

Prompted by the 1998 Massachusetts Department of Education’s high-stakes MCAS performance test, these leaders pioneered many of the school community-building and instructional innovations that would prove necessary to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind legislation that was enacted late into their tenures.

Each of the five principals developed and implemented a unique change strategy, but in most cases the recurring thread in the approaches they took to garner the trust and allegiance of their respective faculties was creating a culture of reciprocal accountability. Sensitive to the needs, values, and priorities of their school populations, they acted accordingly, and teachers became more likely to embrace change efforts as their own.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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